Our visit to the Black Hawk County jail and with Sheriff Tony Thompson definitely had an emotional impact on me. Our conversation with Sheriff Thompson left me feeling confident in the Black Hawk County police. His comments about the work he has done to improve the way his office is run. He told us that all of his officers wear body cameras, which not only keep them accountable, it keeps them safe, and holds all officers they interact with accountable as well. Sheriff Thompson explained that the body cameras on Black Hawk County officers have caught instances of excessive force by officers from other police departments.
What really increased my confidence in law enforcement was Sheriff Thompson’s zero tolerance policy when it comes to his officers. He explained that he holds his officers to a very high standard, and if they are going to represent the law, they must uphold it in all areas of their life, both on and off the job. When one of his officers “stole a $13 tape-measure” from an office supply store, he was immediately taken off the police force. His high standards ensure that we have the best and most ethical officers working out among the people.
The Sheriff’s relationship with the media is very open and progressive. He said that he likes to “keep the media close” and tries to always come to them with stories before they have the chance to come to him. This way he will never be seen as keeping information from the public and always wants to have an open dialogue with the press. Sheriff Thompson also recognizes the importance of the media in “keeping up public opinion.”
The actual tour of the jail itself was certainly an emotional roller coaster. I like to think of myself as a progressive person, who actually tries to see people for who they are rather than what they are labeled as, but I must admit that I had a hard time being in the jail with the prisoners. I found it hard to shake the stereotypes that society has created to categorize and dehumanize people who are incarcerated, even though many of the people at the Black Hawk County jail hadn’t even been convicted of any crime, but were awaiting trial. In addition, I felt that my presence was a huge disruption to a very controlled environment. I hated the feeling that I was some kind of tourist and I had the freedom to walk out at any time whereas the people I was observing did not. It was uncomfortable to me to regard these people as if they were animals rather than human beings who possibly have made some poor choices.
The biggest takeaway from the meeting with Sheriff Thompson and the tour of the jail was that our judicial system in this state (and nationally) is severely underfunded. Sheriff Thompson said that the average stay in his jail used to be around 90 days, and now that average has ballooned to 4 to 5 months. The lack of funding in our judicial system has left many courthouses understaffed. There are not enough judges to hear all of the pending cases, so those accused of crimes must endure long waiting periods to even get to trial to determine their guilt or innocence. This injustice causes many innocent people to lose their freedom for extended periods of time with little to no recourse. This is the true tragedy of the penile system. No matter how well prisoners are treated in jail, they are still prisoners against their will and are at the total mercy of an underfunded and therefore inefficient legal system.